What is a Diphtheria Vaccination?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 February 2020
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The diphtheria vaccination is a shot or immunization given to prevent diphtheria, an illness that can be very serious in some individuals and that can result in death for some people. It’s a little complicated to discuss diphtheria vaccination alone because it is almost always given as a conjugate vaccine. This means it is given as part of a group of immunizations that protect against other diseases also, like tetanus and pertussis. Exactly what type of vaccine people receive tends to depend on their age, country in which they live and specific purpose vaccine is needed.

With all types of the diphtheria vaccination there is no risk of getting the disease. This vaccine is not prepared with live attenuated viruses. This doesn’t mean people will be totally free of side effects when given the vaccine, though it may be hard to tell what disease immunization is resulting in side effects.

Severe side effects from any of the diphtheria shots are extremely rare, but there can be minor reactions like fever, poor sleep and discomfort at the shot site. Though not occurring with great regularity, some children experience a high fever, or unremitting crying for several hours. In most cases, the risk for complications from diphtheria far exceeds those risks associated with complication from the vaccine.


The different types of diphtheria vaccination may be called diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDaP), or tetanus and diphtheria (Td). Another variant is the DTP. This complex labeling differentiates small details that may make one vaccine more appropriate than another at different times.

Most infants start out with receiving the DTaP and will get several booster shots of this in the first years of life. As children age, they might get the Td instead, which lacks the pertussis booster. Adults might also receive the Td even if they haven’t been previously immunized, or both groups may receive the TDaP. Another time people might get the Td is if they have a bad cut that puts them at risk for tetanus. With this shot, they receive an additional diphtheria vaccination, even it is largely unnecessary. Some doctors routinely vaccinate people with the Td every ten years because it is thought immunity to tetanus greatly diminishes at the ten-year point.

Most people are eligible to receive a diphtheria vaccination in all of its forms. Doctors might wait to immunize if people have illnesses present that are more serious than mild viruses or common colds. In extremely rare circumstances, people might have an allergic reaction to the vaccination, and this could mean they should not get any form of the diphtheria vaccination in the future. Allergic reaction usually wouldn’t occur on the first shot, but might occur with subsequent exposures and should be understood as very uncommon.



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